In a sense, sneakers are like bras — just because they look good on doesn't mean they're providing you with the support you need. And to make matters even more complicated, a shoe that someone else swears by could be the exact opposite of what's right for you. Before venturing into the impulse inducing options of the sneaker aisle, take a few minutes to understand your foot type and what kind of shoe will keep you on track.
Identifying your foot type can be done by simply wetting the bottoms of your feet and standing on a flat, dry surface, leaving a footprint. You can also take a look at the wear patterns on some of your more broken-in shoes. If you're still having trouble determining your foot type, head to a shoe store that offers gait analysis, where a specialist observes the way your foot comes into contact with the ground.
After you've identified the wants and needs of your feet, browse our recommendations to find your new favorite kicks.
Narrow Footprint, Arch Barely Touches the Ground
If you've been blessed with the beauty of a high arch, you've also been cursed with the pain of supination, or underpronation. Supination means your foot rolls outward and strikes the ground with the outer edge of the heel and forefoot, causing wear on these areas of your sneakers. When the foot falls out, it's not able to provide the shock absorption you need to fend off shin splits, stress fractures, and sprained ankles.
Prevent these irritating injuries by wearing a highly cushioned shoe, giving you the shock absorption your foot can't deliver on its own. To encourage motion, make sure the shoe is lightweight and flexible. And ensure that motion is rolling inward, not farther outward, by choosing a shoe with minimal arch support.
Flat, Low Arched Footprint
Overpronation is when your arch is too flexible, causing your foot to fall inward when it hits the ground. You'll see wear on the inside of the heel and forefoot of your sneakers. Overpronation means the foot and ankle can't stabilize the weight of the body, putting extra strain on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the foot. Bunions, heel spurs, hammer toe, achilles tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis are common conditions related to overpronation.
Stabilize your stride with a pair of motion-control sneakers. Stability shoes have extra arch support, helping to more evenly distribute the impact of your step. Orthotic insoles are another option to combat overpronation. These over-the-counter shoe inserts align the foot and cushion from pounding.
Neutral, Not Flat but Not Rigid Footprint
If you've never bought a shoe based on foot type and haven't experienced the agony of aching feet and joints, you're one step ahead of the rest of us. Neutral feet roll slightly inward when the foot strikes the ground, creating a stable platform to support the weight of the body. If the wear on your sneakers is evenly distributed across the heel and forefront of the shoe, you fall into the category of those fortunate enough to be neutrally footed.
Though neutral feet typically feel comfortable in most sneakers, it's important to choose a shoe that won't drastically alter the way your foot meets the ground. Stability shoes that provide moderate pronation support are best to maintain your foot's natural motion. There are also specialty neutral running shoes, which can add cushion and support to your already effective step.